World University Rankings 2018: QS vs Times Higher Education | List of Top 50 Universities in the World for 2017 – 2018

The world university rankings for 2017 – 2018 are out now. According to the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking, published last week, the University of Oxford is the No. 1 University in the world for 2017-18. But, last month QS ranking put MIT on the top of the table for 2017-2018. Both Oxford and MIT held on to their top spots for two years in a row. Below is the table featuring top 50 universities in the world for the 2017-2018 session according to QS and Times Higher Education.

So, which of the two ranking systems is the most reliable one, and which ranking table should be referred by the international students? The matter of fact is that both the tables use different methodologies and ranking parameters. There is no definitive table. Ideally, you should have a fair idea about how the international universities stand against each other. There is nothing called Best University in the World. You just need to identify what is best for your profile, interests and career goals.

University of Oxford (Image Credit: SkillOutlook)

World University Rankings 2018: QS vs Times Higher Education

The QS System ranks the international universities after evaluating Academic Peer Review (40% of total weightage),  Faculty/Student ratio (20%),  Citations per Faculty or Department (20%),  Employer Reputation (10%),  International Student Ratio (5%) and International Staff Ratio (5%). In contrast, the Times Higher Education system evaluates 13 parameters grouped into 5 major categories – Teaching Quality and Environment (30%),  Research Activities (30%),  Citations and/or Research Impact (32.5%),  International Outlook (5%), and Industry Income (2.5%).

Image Credit: QS Top Universities

Now, both systems have got their own limitations, controversies, and few flaws. Within the QS system, the academic peer review parameter is a bit controversial. They use a combination of surveys (sent to a purchased mailing list) of active academicians across the globe. Another parameter – Citations per Faculty is also a bit flawed. This parameter automatically puts the research-based universities on the top of the table. Most of the research-based universities, particularly those in Natural and Applied Sciences put a lot of emphasis on research and publications. Thus, they get an advantage as publications and citations in Humanities, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences are not that straightforward. Similarly, the Times Higher Education methodology also puts a lot of emphasis on the research productivity and citations. Hence, the research-based universities get an upper hand again over the taught-based universities.

Image Credit: Times Higher Education

So, this puts the universities at a serious disadvantage that are focussing more on industry projects, and where undergraduate students get more practical training (or internship). In case of the research-based universities, usually, the graduate students (primarily the Ph.D. students) and the staff (Postdocs and Professors) are doing the research work throughout the year. It is unlikely that an undergraduate student or an MS or MSc student will spend too much of time in research. Undergraduate or Masters Students would be more interested in getting a good quality education and practical training. So, these rankings might not serve their motive completely.

How to Refer to the World University Rankings – Advice for the International Students

If you are looking for universities on the basis of overall reputation, then the QS table would be better for you. On the other hand, if you wish to judge universities on the basis of research, innovation, industry-income (research earning through patents), international outlook and prestige (academic heritage), then you should refer to the Times Higher Education league table.

One of the common factors of these league tables is that the academic reputation is one of the main parameters that decide the standing of a university on the ranking table. You must remember that while reputation is (or can be) important, it won’t be the only thing that makes a university a good fit for you. Similarly, just because a university is less well-known does not make it be less worthy.

For example, if you are looking for the top engineering schools in the US for undergraduate studies, refer to the U.S. News rankings. Do you know that colleges like Harvey Mudd or the Cooper Union are placed over Harvard for undergraduate education in engineering in the US (US News)? There is no point of chasing a top-ranked and reputed university with a too much financial burden. Rather you should choose universities on the basis of the course content, affordability, and other important factors. I am not advising you to ignore these rankings completely. My point is that even a university that features in the top 200 (Tier 1) or top 500 (Tier 2) of these rankings tables, is actually a top-tier university, and will serve your purpose very well; especially at the undergraduate level.

You might also like the following articles:

World University Rankings 2016-2017: QS vs Times Higher Education vs ARWU – Review and Analysis

THE World University Rankings 2018: IISc slides, no Indian institute in top 200

2018 Application Deadlines for International Undergraduate Students (Freshmen) for Top Engineering & Liberal Arts Colleges in the USA

Graduate employability ranking: the best university for getting a job

About Author Tanmoy Ray

I have got a Molecular Pharmacology background with 5 years of research experience in the fields of Cardiovascular Medicine, Cancer Biology, Biomarkers, and Drug Discovery. I did my Masters from the UK (Aston University) and have worked at University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), University of New South Wales (Australia) and MeetUniversity (India). Currently, I am working with Stoodnt Inc. as a Career Adviser & Admission Counselor. I can be reached at

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